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Finding Caterers

Advice and Tips for Finding Caterers

One of the most important things to consider when finding catering companies is that there is no universal system of qualifications in the catering industry. Therefore, with only a few hours of formal training, a beginner could start a catering company – this individual could end up being the caterer at one of the most important events in your life! Companies Catering was set up to help people find good quality catering companies. Below is a short guide to choosing caterers.

Tastings

Make sure that when finding local catering companies, they offer to provide you with a tasting. This is a useful way to gauge their food, and is especially important if you are looking for caterers for a large event (such as a wedding). However, bear in mind that the food you taste will be the very best they produce, and also that there is a difference in providing a small tasting and successfully catering for a large event with hundreds of guests.

Event Size

Chose a caterer that is able to successfully cater for the size of your event. Some large caterers may not be well suited to small and intimate events, and similarly some smaller caterers will definitely struggle with large events made up of hundreds of guests. If in doubt, speak to the catering company you are interested in and ask for examples of times they have catered for events of a similar size.

References / Testimonials

When finding caterees, it is wise to ask for references from previous customers who have used the company. Make sure you get direct referrals, not just a list of names. It is advisable to ask for at least one reference from the last month, and one from work completed in the last week. You should certainly contact the references, but bear in mind that they will be the best events the caterer has worked at in the given timeframe. Note that Companies Catering will soon be implementing a review system on our website, where customers will be able to review caterers and pass on comments. When searching for caterers using this website, we would recommend you check this out!

You can even visit the caterers premises unannounced; this gives you a good idea of the conditions in which they prepare your food, as well as getting a feel for their ability to caterer at your event. When formally assessing their cleanliness, be aware that this should be the best conditions they prepare food in; it will not get any better, but could get a lot worse. You should also look at the cleanliness of the caterer’s transport equipment – remember that your food will be reaching your event in these vehicles, and may well be cooked in them too. Be wary if the catering company hires transport equipment and does not have its own, especially for large events, as hired equipment may not be as reliable or clean as equipment the caterer owns. If you're unsure, simply speak to them about the type of equipment they will be using.

Wait Staff

If you’re also looking for wait staff, see if the catering company can provide this. Some companies may employ their own staff, and if they do you can be sure that they are well accustomed to catering at large events. If they hire outside staff, ask to be given the name of the agency they use, as you should at least be able read online reviews about them as well as speaking to them to gauge their quality. If the caterer cannot arrange any wait staff at all, then it suggests they may be unsuited to large formal events.

It’s important to think about what kind of service you need. Wait staff may not necessarily be required, as if the event is going to be lively or informal a buffet may be a better (and cheaper) option.

If staff are required, you should ask how many staff the catering company will use; you need to get a feel for whether the event may be understaffed. Don’t forget that good staff are essential to the smooth running of the event; even if the food is delicious, it is no good if the staff are rude, poorly trained or cannot deliver it before it gets cold.

We strongly recommend you read the Companies Catering guide to hiring wait staff; this guide gives you plenty of advice on what to look for when hiring wait staff. You can read about how many staff are needed for events of different sizes, be inspired by some of the novelty staff available to hire (for example, what about entertaining your guests by having them partake in tasty cocktail making classes by skilled waiters), and what kind of events we recommend you need to hire wait staff for (and which you don’t).

Cost

Ask for a breakdown of costs, and make sure you understand what services you are paying for. Catering is like most other things in life – you get what you pay for. Don’t be focussed on cost to the detriment of your event.

If you’re looking to save costs, why not talk to the caterer and consider having your event at a time outside the peak season – generally this will be outside summer time. Moreover, you can also save money by having the event midweek and avoiding weekends and Friday nights.

Fresh Food

You should insist on fresh food, not frozen food that will be reheated. Making sure the food is fresh is one of the best ways of ensuring the quality of the food. Ensure the food is cooked on site as well, not heated elsewhere and brought in, as this makes a huge difference to the quality of the food.

Websites

Many caterers offer websites where you can view their work and read customer testimonials; use the links provided by www.companiescatering.co.uk to read about companies you are considering. Also when finding cateres look out for blogs and discussion forums that mention the businesses you are intersted in.

Personalising the food

Of course, you’ll want a large say in the choice of food to be served at your event. Don’t rush the menu by leaving it until the last minute before the event. Deciding on the menu a few months before the event gives you enough time to make changes if you wish. As you get closer to the event your ideas for food will develop around the planning of the event itself. Make sure you have a broad ideas of your menu options when you contact a caterer, as it is worth investigating whether they can serve the type of food you want.

When catering for large events, it is sensible to keep the menu simple, as the more exotic styles of food may not be suitable for events with hundreds of people. After all, what works well at smaller events may be harder for catering companies to replicate at the larger events.

Use the caterer’s knowledge

Once you have settled on a caterer you trust, use their knowledge to help plan other aspects of your event. After all, they will have been present at many events and will have a good idea of how they should run successfully. They may be able to recommend other good contractors for your event, based on their experiences.

What about drinks?

Speak to you caterer to see if they can provide drinks for the event. You may also be able to find better prices by asking local wine merchants or upmarket alcohol shops. Also, whilst many people think that serving beer and wine is the cheaper option, don’t forget that there are more servings to be found in a bottle of spirits, meaning they spirits can be more cost effective overall.

Check out our article on drinks to read more about drinks at catered events.

Office Catering

For a simple meal delivered to the office, typically at lunchtime, you may not necessarily need the services of a large catering company. Why not look at local shops that people in your office like to visit, and ask them if they will cater at your event? Usually they will be happy to, and will provide cheap and relatively pleasant office food, usually of the cold cuts / sandwiches / finger food variety.

However, if quality is an issue and you are entertaining clients (or perhaps catering for a large formal event) then the tips above should be taken into account.

The Contract and Prices

The contract is an important and often overlooked aspect of choosing a caterer. Make sure the caterers give you a complete price for the event, and ensure that the contract clearly spells out what is included (e.g. wait staff, cutlery and so on) and what is not included (e.g. drinks, table hire etc). You should receive a final price for the event to avoid any hidden charges.

Also remember that there is a degree of haggling allowed and expected in this industry. Don’t automatically sign with the cheapest option – make sure you speak to your preferred caterer and see if they will reduce their price to compete. Companies Catering helps in this regard by allowing you to get free catering quotes – you can use these to assess the price of the event and see if you can match prices for comparable caterers.